Jacqueline Wilson tells the most marvellous stories for children. This one-time Children’s Laureate is a prolific writer, adored by young people, for whom her books provide such compulsive reading, that over 30 million copies have been sold in the UK alone.
She is, however, a somewhat controversial figure for some adults, as her books often deal with uncomfortable themes such as divorce, the difficulties of blended families and children being abandoned by their parents. Young people appear unafraid to face such issues, relishing in the very real and very resilient young characters she portrays.
The story of Hetty Feather epitomises the tough life and the triumph of hope over adversity, that Wilson has become famous for. Set in the late 19th Century, the story begins with Hetty’s poor and destitute mother, handing over her precious baby girl to be cared for at the Foundling Hospital. We then follow Hetty through the hardships, trials and tribulations that constitute the history of her troubled childhood. But this is no simpering sob-story, for Hetty is fearless and feisty and as fiery as her flaming red hair.
The action takes place within what looks like a sparse and make-shift circus tent. Coiled ropes and scarlet drapes of material hang from the ceiling, looping round the sturdy metal framework, with trapeze rigging and an aerial hoop swinging in the centre. As might be expected from such a setting, this piece was active and fast-moving, with intermittent acrobatic displays adding to the atmosphere and drama.
All characters in the story were played by the company of six: three men and three women who between them displayed an impressive variety of skills. Phoebe Thomas as Hetty and Sarah Goddard as Peg and Ida played their roles with great conviction; Nikki Warwick showed that her time spent working in aerial circus had been put to good use; and Matt Costain, Paul Mundell and Isaac Stanmore all put in fine performances in their various supporting roles. The two musicians-cum-singers, Seamus H. Carey and Luke Potter, just in-sight at the side of the stage throughout, added some mournful melodies and terrific soul to the whole proceedings.
Adults will enjoy it, children and young people will enjoy it more – a number of the disappointingly meagre audience were up on their feet at the end. It was a heartening, entertaining and refreshing show that ultimately makes for a jolly good family night out – but won’t blow your socks off!
27th – 31st May